‘SNL’ Tribute: A Look Back

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Alan Carter

1975: John Belushi debuts the popular Samurai character in December. He will also score stardom as a Killer Bee and a Blues Brother. Another original cast member, Gilda Radner, becomes immediately popular with her characters Baba Wawa, Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella. Chevy Chase is the breakout star with his imitations of an addled, clumsy Gerald Ford and his “Weekend Update” newscasts. He leaves after one season.

1977: Music guest Elvis Costello plays his song “Radio Radio.” Lorne Michaels had forbidden him from performing the antimedia song and tells Mr. Costello he will never appear on the show again. Mr. Michaels relents in 1989. The first of 11 Coneheads sketches airs.

1980: Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo debut as regulars. Mr. Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” (a “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” parody) has the nation in stitches, including Mr. Rogers himself. And Mr. Murphy also played Gumby, “dammit!”

1981: Charles Rocket utters the F-word and is fired for the faux pas.

1982: Drew Barrymore, then 7, hosts; to date, she is the youngest person ever to host. A pre-“Seinfeld” Julia Louis-Dreyfus starts a three-year run.

1986: Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey join the cast. Mr. Carvey’s Church Lady and her signature line “Isn’t that special?” become overnight sensations. Mr. Hartman, who with eight seasons had one of the longest runs as a cast member, is murdered by his wife in 1998, four years after leaving the show.

1988: Mike Myers (“Coffee Talk With Linda Richman” still makes us verklempt) joins the cast. Mr. Myers and Mr. Carvey later team up for “Wayne’s World” and create magic on-screen despite rumors that they can’t stand each other when the cameras aren’t rolling. Ben Stiller also joins the cast.

1990: Andrew Dice Clay hosts and cast member Nora Dunn refuses to appear in the same episode. Chris Rock joins the cast. Julia Sweeney’s sexually ambiguous “It’s Pat!” character spawns a debate over whether Pat is a he or a she. Years later, and after a movie with the title character (co-starring the fired Charles Rocket, no less), it’s revealed that Pat is indeed female.

1992: Sinead O’Connor angers viewers when she rips up a photo of the pope during her musical appearance on the show.

1994: Martin Lawrence goes way off script during his monologue and is banned. Alec Baldwin plays a naked pedophile scoutmaster and makes suggestive remarks to Canteen Boy Adam Sandler. Mr. Baldwin in later years appears in push-the-envelope skits “Schweddy Balls” and “Schweddy Weiners.”

1998: After nearly a five-year run, popular “Weekend Update” anchor Norm Macdonald is dumped by NBC Entertainment President Don Ohlmeyer. Mr. Ohlmeyer denies it, but Mr. Macdonald’s incessant joking about O.J. Simpson (an Ohlmeyer pal) is allegedly the reason. The infamous nudist camp skit (in which the word penis is uttered almost 50 times) airs. Some viewers complain, but no one gets the ax.

1995: Darrell Hammond (the master of all political imitations, left or right) and Will Ferrell join the show.

2000: Tina Fey becomes the show’s first female head writer and in short order, due to her hilarious deadpan newscasts with Jimmy Fallon, becomes a contract player.

2001: A post-9/11 broadcast has then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani opening the show. A still-stunned nation watches as Lorne Michaels asks “Can we be funny?” to which Mayor Giuliani replies, completely deadpan: “Why start now?”

2004: Ashlee Simpson’s career almost implodes when she is caught lip-synching to the wrong song. She later blames acid reflux for the flux-up. Ms. Fey and Amy Poehler become the first female anchor tandem in “Weekend Update” history.